It’s All About Me


By David Corbett

For my last two postings (not counting September 11th), I’ve tried to lighten things up a bit. Now I’m going to do something even more unusual, at least for me: blatant self-promotion (aka BSP).

Gar has previously written here about how uncomfortable the old hard sell makes him. I read his remarks and felt an implicit and profound simpatico. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s the Catholic upbringing that Gar and I share, but asking people to give me something, no matter how understandable—or necessary—feels like the coarsest type of vanity.

Worse, it feels like begging.

Alex has made the excellent counterpoint that without promotion—indeed, aggressive and smart and relentless promotion—your chances of finding a readership that can sustain you professionally are akin to those of capturing the Higgs boson in a Klein bottle (or words to that effect).

As much as I concede the wisdom in Alex’s remarks, I still feel a little soiled by the whole thing, and somehow suspect my conscience is wagging its finger at me. Better poor and proud, I can hear it say, than rich and self-aggrandizing. But, of course, my conscience doesn’t have a mortgage to pay.

So—I embark upon the following two entreaties with considerable ambivalence.

(Not that you care, I realize, but I thought if I started with a little self-abnegation the rest of this would be easier to plod through. Because that’s the true subtext of all self-promotion, whether it’s a breeze or makes your skin crawl: It’s all about me.)


So, first, I’ve launched my own manuscript review and editing service. I dove into this end of the pool after being approached by an agent and several students to look at works-in-progress and give my best advice on what works, what doesn’t—only to discover I’m rather good at it.

It’s a natural extension of my teaching, which I love, and allows me to delve more deeply with individual writers into the whole of their manuscripts.

The best part is providing these writers with confirmation of just where their strengths and weaknesses lie, for I’m often just an external voice echoing what they themselves already know: This is excellent, this needs work, this can be cut, etc.

(And nothing is more gratifying than offering a suggestion and having a writer’s eyes light up as she says: Of course! Often, it’s just the slightest refocusing of a theme or plot point that can turn confusion into clarity.)

I provide four levels of service, from review of a synopsis to a full line edit of the complete manuscript, with two mid-level approaches also available. For full details, go here.

I’ve been told by others in the field I’m ridiculously cheap. So, sign up before I wise up.

Second, for those of you who don’t already know, my story collection, Killing Yourself to Survive, is now available in a variety of ebook formats at the insanely hospitable price of $2.99 through Open Road Media and Mysterious Press (also the publishers of fellow Murderateros Gar Anthony Haywood, Martyn Waites, and Ken Bruen).

I’m known more for my novels than for my stories, though one offering in this collection—“Pretty Little Parasite,” from Las Vegas Noir—was chosen for Best American Mystery Stories 2009.


For a bit of a teaser:

            One hand on her hip, the other lofting her cocktail tray, Sam Pitney scanned the gaming floor from the Roundup’s mezzanine, dressed in her cowgirl outfit and fresh from a bracing toot in the ladies. Stream-of-nothingness mode, mid-shift, slow night, only the blow keeping her vertical—and she had this odd craving for some stir-fry—she stared out at the flagging crowd and manically finger-brushed the outcrop of blond bangs showing beneath her tipped-back hat.

            Maybe it was seeing her own reflection fragmented in dozens of angled mirrors to the left and right and even overhead, or the sight of the usual trudge of losers wandering the noisy maze-like neon, clutching change buckets, chip trays, chain-smoking (still legal, this was the `80s), hoping for one good score to recoup a little dignity—whatever the reason, she found herself revisiting a TV program from a few nights back, about Auschwitz, Dachau, one of those places. Men and women and children and even poor helpless babies cradled by their mothers, stripped naked then marched into giant shower rooms, only to notice too late—doors slamming, bolts thrown, gas soon hissing from the showerheads: a smell like almonds, the voice on the program said.

            Sam found herself wondering—no particular reason—what it would be like if the doors to the casino suddenly rumbled shut, trapping everybody inside.

A second story—“It Can Happen,” from San Francisco Noir—was nominated for the Macavity Award for Best Short Story of 2004:

            Lorene took up position bedside and crossed her arms. She was a pretty, short, ample, strong woman. “Don’t make me go off on you.”

            Pilgrim tilted his head to see her, eyes glazed. Every ten minutes or so, someone needed to wipe the fluid away. It was a new problem, the tear ducts. Three years now since the accident, reduced to deadweight from the neck down, followed by organs failing, musty skin, powdery hair, his body in a slow but inexorable race with his mind to the grave. He was forty-three years old.

            In a scratchy whisper, he said, “I got my eyes and ears out there.”

            “Corella?” Their daughter. Corella the Giver, Lorene called her, not kindly.

            “You been buying things,” he said.

            “Furniture a crime now?”

            “Things you can’t afford, not by the wildest stretch—”

            “Ain’t your business, Pilgrim. My home, we’re talkin’ about.” She pressed her finger against her breastbone. “Mine.”

            Lorene lived in a renovated Queen Anne Victorian in the Excelsior District of San Francisco, hardly an exclusive area but grand next to Hunter’s Point, where Pilgrim remained, living in the same house he’d lived in on a warehouseman’s salary, barely more than a shack.

            Pilgrim bought the Excelsior house after his accident, when he came into his money through the legal settlement. He was broadsided by a semi when his brakes failed, a design defect on his lightweight pickup. Lorene stood by him till the money came through then filed for divorce, saying she was still young. She needed a real husband.

            Actually, the word she used was “functional.”


A third story, “The Axiom of Choice,” appeared in The Strand.

It was discussed in an online forum titled Mathematical Fictions that focuses on narrative works that deal with mathematics or mathematicians. (I’m oddly proud of this, for reasons which escape me.) I also think the story is one of my best, and is one of my few attempts at first person narration:

            As I sat here waiting, wondering how to explain things, I caught myself remembering something often said about set theory. I teach mathematics at the college, I’m sure you know that already. It’s sometimes described—set theory, I mean, excuse me—it’s oftentimes described as a field in which nothing is self-evident: True statements are often paradoxical and plausible ones are false. I can imagine you describing your own line of work much the same way. If not, by the time I’m finished here, I suspect you will.

            I see by your ring you’re married. Perhaps you’ll agree with me that marriage, like life itself, is never quite what one expects. I’ve even heard it said that, sooner or later, one’s wife becomes a sister or an enemy. I’m sure for a great many men that’s true. I’d put it differently. Again, if I can borrow a phrase from my area of expertise, I suppose I might say of Veronica’s essential nature—her soul for lack of a better term—what Descartes said of infinity: It’s something I could recognize but not comprehend.

            Now, I can imagine you thinking, given what you saw in our bedroom, that such a statement reveals a profound bitterness, even hatred. I assure you that’s not the case. But there’s no getting inside another person, no rummaging around inside a wife’s or a lover’s psyche the way you might dig through a drawer. The gulf between me and my wife, her and Aydin—that’s the name of the young man whose body you found beside my wife’s: Aydin Donnelly, he was my student—the gulf between any two people may feel negligible at times, intimacy being the intoxicant it is, but the chasm remains unbridgeable. It has nothing to do with facts—my God, who has a greater accumulation of facts than a married couple? No, I’m not speaking out of bitterness. On the contrary, I feel humbled by this observation. What I mean to say is this: If you simply bother to reflect on the matter seriously, or just open your eyes, absolutely everything, even oneself—and especially one’s wife—remains mysterious.

So if you’ve got three shmazolies to spare, give these stories a spin. Guaranteed to keep you turning those digital pages.

There. I’m finished now. Time for:

Jukebox Hero of the Week: Meet the Korean hip-hop sensation PSY. You want to talk about successful promotion? Who doesn’t envy someone who can claim more than 194,665,000 hits on his YouTube video?



20 thoughts on “It’s All About Me

  1. Sarah W

    Rest easy, David–It's not self-aggrandizement if you can deliver the goods.

    I love San Francisco Noir (the entire Akashic noir series is terrific) and I remember Pilgrim and Lorene. Your characters are always memorable, David—you don't pull many punches with them, either. But I'll grab that collection just to read "The Axiom of Choice," as I'm a total sucker for first person criminal confessionals. The price is just a bonus.

    (They have shmazolies on the west coast? I've only heard of 'em from my cousin in Newark)

  2. David Corbett


    I grew up back east, "shmazolie" is an atavism. Some things die hard.

    I agree on the Akashic noir series. I've been lucky enough to be in four, with stories in two of them (one co-written with Luis Alberto Urrea) selected for BAMS.

    Thanks for the pickup. BTW: Pilgrim and Lorene may make it to the screen. A local indie director bought the rights to the story and two others in SF Noir and is working on a tryptich. There was talk of Danny Glover possibly playing Pilgrim, but I haven't heard from the director in a while. Such is the biz and the buzz.

  3. Lisa Alber

    Okay, so now I need to buy a Kindle! Not owning one has just officially become a handicap.

    And review and editing services? Intriguing, my friend, VERY intriguing. 🙂

    I agree with Sarah W: self-aggrandizement? Nah.

  4. David Corbett


    Please, feel free to inquire about the MS review. I'd love to work with you. (Anyone who "Likes" Randy Newman's latest rant-of-irony is my kinda peep.)

    And thanks for the attaboy, too. Means a lot. Yeah, I think Kindles are becoming de rigeur. Like Snuggies.

    Please forget I said that.

  5. Lisa Alber

    How can I forget that! Snuggies! I bought a sleeved blanket, oh I'd say about 1997, from a local fabric artist. At the time, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world, and I wondered why no one had thought of it before. I loved that thing, and I still have it around somewhere. I sure hope the artist is the one who's making the millions now.

    I'll definitely inquire, but not quite yet. I've got a first draft waiting for me (second in a series; the first in the series being the ms. I'm trying to figure out what to do with: trad. or indie? small press? what?). That first draft needs major help, but I need to go through it on my own first. It's been awhile since I've looked at it…

  6. Jake Nantz

    Love this. I will say you may want to be careful with the way you set things up on your web site. You are careful to point out for the last MS breakdown (the "Full Monty", as it were) that the manuscript must be in basic Industry Standard format (double-spaced, 1 in. margins, 12-pt. font), but you don't say that on any of the other three.

    A penny-pincher like me (hey, teacher's salary, ok?) could turn his entire manuscript into "the first 50 pages" and cry havoc when you balk at critiquing the 8-pt, single-spaced, 0.3-inch margin monstrosity for $350.
    Just sayin'.

    And I will definitely keep you in mind as I get closer to the end, even if one of the middle options (the full read-through-but-no-line-edit or the 50-pager) is all I can afford. Some direction is better than none, eh?

  7. Larry Gasper

    If this is BSP the blatant part is muted to the point of not even being there. I loved "Killing Yourself to Survive" and highly recommend it to everyone. The editing service is already bookmarked and you'll be seeing my book when it's ready for another set of eyes.

  8. KDJames

    David, I agree with everyone else — not BSP at all, just letting us know what's available.

    I'm glad you posted excerpts! I bought one of your books (the running one? I'm awful with titles) but haven't read it yet. So much time, so few books to read. Maybe I'll do better with these short stories. Sigh. So I haven't yet discovered your fiction writing voice, which can be very different from a blog writing voice. That's something I first discovered with Brett Battles. I remember being (pleasantly) shocked at how different his writing voice was from his blog posts. And now I've read almost everything he's written.

    In fact, I wish more of you all would post excerpts. For the same reason. Several of the people whose books I've read are no longer here and I just haven't caught up with the work of all the new faces. Been selfishly using my spare time writing my own.

    I'm not yet in the market for the editing, but I've bookmarked the site and will be happy to spread the word to others. I will now go over to twitter and tell all twelve of my followers about you. Um, about your editing services. 😉

  9. David Corbett

    Jake: Thanks for the heads up. I've put in a change order for website info. And I'd love to work with you any time.

    BTW: Thanks (in part) to Murderati, the PSY video now has over 221 million viewers. Way to go, gang, over 25 million views in one day! I wonder if I've sold that many books…

  10. David Corbett


    Sorry, we're having a strange time with comments today. I just copied yours and put it up myself. That didn't work earlier with Jake's, now it does. Go figure.

    I think your comment about excerpts is a good one, and I hope my fellow Murderateros heed it.

    And you're never wasting time if your working on your own fiction. Never.

  11. PD Martin

    Go, David! We all need a little self-promotion now and then. Besides, as the saying goes, if people don't know you offer a service/have novels out, they can't sign up!

    I'm actually having character problems with genre shift. Maybe I should go to Dr Corbett! 🙂


  12. David Corbett

    This from Phillipa:

    Go, David! We all need a little self-promotion now and then. Besides, as the saying goes, if people don't know you offer a service/have novels out, they can't sign up!

    I'm actually having character problems with genre shift. Maybe I should go to Dr Corbett! 🙂


    (Phillipa: I promise not to kill the patient.)

  13. Zoë Sharp

    Hey David

    Sorry to come late to this, but when do I not? Great post. Love the snippets of your work. And I'm sure you'll be deluged by people wanting your manuscript critique service. I'm pretty tempted myself …

    Short stories are a chance for us to spread our wings a little, to try something new. Love it.

  14. Zoë Sharp

    Hey David

    Sorry to come late to this, but when do I not? Great post. Love the snippets of your work. It's not BSP if it's something we want to hear, is it?

    And I'm sure you'll be deluged by people wanting your manuscript critique service. I'm pretty tempted myself …

    Short stories are a chance for us to spread our wings a little, to try something new. Love it.

  15. Phil Semler


    good luck to you on all your endeavors.

    In our Grotto crime writing class, your line editing of about 80 pages and especially crossing out sections made my book Daemon so much better and publishable. I am forever indebted to you. You really understood my protaganist, especially his desires, which seemed like nondesires sometimes.
    I bought your new ebook off Amazon and reviewed the crime anthology for SFBR. Good luck!
    Phil Semler
    P.S. I tell all my crime reading friends about you. Many have thanked me after reading your books!

  16. Shizuka

    As if I didn't already know, you get women.
    Pretty Little Parasite, which I love, is amazing proof of that.
    And now I gotta read It Can Happen.

    Your self-promotion is more of a gently reminder than blatant.
    Goes with your tough package, soft personality.

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